Spring Lecture Series 2020

The 2020 Spring Lecture Series has been organised by Professor Aviva Burnstock, Head of the Department of Conservation and Technology.

Decisions, Revisions and Supposition: The Conservation and Technical Examination of Sandro Botticelli’s ‘Trinity Altarpiece’

21st January 2020

Graeme Barraclough (The Courtauld) and Dr Scott Nethersole (The Courtauld) 

In early 2017, Sandro Botticelli’s Trinity Altarpiece was removed from the walls of the Courtauld Gallery to be restored. The panel work has now been completed, as has much of the cleaning.  Graeme Barraclough and Scott Nethersole will discuss its on-going restoration. They will show the results of the panel work and discuss some of the problems that have been encountered during the cleaning. They will also ask what new questions now need to be answered.

Graeme Barraclough trained as an Easel Painting conservator at the Courtauld Institute of Art. After graduation he went on to complete an internship at the Royal Collection and from 1994-2003 he was employed by English Heritage before returning the Courtauld in 2003 as the Gallery painting conservator. Since 2010 he has been the Chief Conservator.

The structural conservation of the painting ‘The Holy Trinity with Saints John the Baptist and Mary Magdalen’ (1491-94) by Sandro Botticelli was supported by Bank of America Merrill Lynch

The Cleaning and Restoration of Bruegel’s Panel Painting The Suicide of Saul

4th February 2020

Elke Oberthaler – Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna

From October 2018 until January 2019 the Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna commemorated the 450th anniversary of the death of Pieter Bruegel the Elder with an important exhibition. For the first time ever the artists‘ oeuvre across the media was presented together. The exhibition was the high- but not endpoint of a documentation and research campaign, which started in 2012 and focused on preservation issues and on the extensive technical examination and documentation. The lecture will briefly reflect and update on this project, which also included the in depth treatment of the panel painting The Suicide of Saul, signed and dated with 1562.

The panel painting depicting The Suicide of Saul is by far the smallest Bruegel in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, and one of the master’s most concentrated compositions executed in a distinct miniature technique. The legibility of the painting was highly compromised by a heavily degraded varnish layer and overpaints in the areas next to the joints that connect the original panel with the later additions. These additions where attached in the late eighteenth century on the top and lower edges in order to compensate an old format loss that had reduced the height of the painting. Another question was raised by the appearance of the distant landscape, which seemed to have lost almost all definition. The talk will discuss the research done in preparation of the treatment. The procedures and techniques used to remove varnish layers and overpaints will be presented step by step, together with the decisions and choices made concerning the degree of integrating the old additions.

Elke Oberthaler

Elke Oberthaler graduated from the Conservation Program of the University of Applied Arts Vienna in 1985. She has been a paintings conservator at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna since 1984. From 1990 – 1992 she was A.W. Mellon fellow in the Paintings Conservation Department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 1997 she was appointed chief conservator of the paintings collection at the Kunsthistorisches Museum.

Her most recent project was the technical study of the panel paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder in the KHM, supported by the Getty Panel Paintings Initiative and, as a member of the curatorial team with Sabine Pénot, Manfred Sellink and Ron Spronk, the organization of the monographic exhibition on Pieter Bruegel the Elder held at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in 2018/19.

Elke Oberthaler has been lecturing at both conservation programs in Vienna. She is currently member of the International Commissions in Ghent – for the conservation of the Ghent altarpiece and in Dresden – for the restoration of the Painting Girl Reading a Letter by Johannes Vermeer. Her publications focus on painterly techniques and the history of conservation.

The recent relining of the National Gallery’s Equestrian Portrait of Charles I by van Dyck

18th February 2020

Paul Ackroyd – The National Gallery

The presentation will discuss the recent relining of van Dyck’s Equestrian Portrait of Charles I. This is a large picture, measuring approximately 3.7m X 3.0m, and was relined with an equivalent of BEVA 371, Lascaux Heatseal Adhesive 375, using a vacuum envelope technique. The logistics of moving such a large painting during the course of the treatment, the construction of the envelope and the problems associated with this lining method will be discussed. The treatment was sponsored by the Getty’s Canvas Paintings Initiative and involved the participation of seven conservators from other European and American institutions.

Paul Ackroyd’s initial training in conservation was at the Gateshead Technical College, Newcastle from 1980-2. From 1982-6 he undertook a Tate Gallery Studentship in paintings conservation, a training scheme run in conjunction with the Courtauld Institute of Art. Since 1986 he has been a conservator at the National Gallery, London, carrying out the cleaning and restoration of paintings as well as structural conservation treatments. His research interests are in the technical art history of paintings, primarily those in the National Gallery’s collection, and the structural conservation of canvas pictures.

The Restoration of the Petworth ‘Beauties’ 

3rd March 2020 

Richard Ashbourne – Curator, National Trust and Katya Belaia – Adviser on Paintings Conservation for the National Trust

I will cut off their legs, I do not want their petticoats.’ With this command, the 3rd Earl of Egremont shortened the Petworth ‘Beauties’, a series of eight paintings of women of the late Stuart court. The cut ‘legs’ were folded up behind the portraits. Now, two centuries on, two ‘Beauties’ have been restored for Tate Britain’s 2020 exhibition ‘British Baroque: Power and Illusion’. This talk will consider our research into the pictures, displayed at Petworth House in West Sussex since the 1690s, the complexities of their restoration, and the new information it has brought to light.


Richard Ashbourne is Assistant Curator for the National Trust’s London and South East region. Previously, he worked at Polesden Lacey in Surrey. He studied Classics at Selwyn College, Cambridge.

Katya Belaia is Assistant to the Adviser on Paintings Conservation for the National Trust.


Van Gogh at the Met: recent insights through technical examination

10th March 2020

Charlotte Hale – The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has in its collection seventeen paintings by Vincent Van Gogh. These celebrated works have been researched and published extensively, but technical examinations are providing new insights into the creative process of the artist. The talk will centre on a group of four resplendent still lifes of irises and roses, two of which are in The Met’s collection. Painted as series, just before the artist’s departure from asylum at Saint-Rémy, they were reunited for the first time since his death in a recent exhibition.

Charlotte Hale is a paintings conservator at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she is primarily responsible for works of the nineteenth century. She received her training in the Conservation of Paintings at the Courtauld, and joined the staff at The Met following a fellowship in the department of Paintings Conservation. Her most recent publications are technical studies of paintings by Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Seurat, all relating to exhibitions.